(MintPress) – The Hispanic vote in the 2012 presidential election was larger than ever before, with exit polls showing that up to 10 percent of those who cast ballots identified as Latino. Meanwhile, Latinos in Puerto Rico voted Tuesday in a way that also surprised. In an underdog victory, Puerto Ricans went to the polls Nov. […]
(MintPress) – The Hispanic vote in the 2012 presidential election was larger than ever before, with exit polls showing that up to 10 percent of those who cast ballots identified as Latino. Meanwhile, Latinos in Puerto Rico voted Tuesday in a way that also surprised. In an underdog victory, Puerto Ricans went to the polls Nov. 6, not to vote for the president, but to vote on whether they would one day be able to do just that.
Sixty-one percent of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood with the U.S. — an alarming number compared to past referendums, all of which were shot down.
Statehood would not change the citizen status of Puerto Ricans, who are already U.S. citizens. They would, however, be given the right to vote in presidential elections and would have access to American government programs not currently available to them.
In August, MintPress reported on the upcoming statehood referendum and the corporate challenges that stood in its way. At that point, even those at the forefront of the movement had little hope success would be theirs. Yet now it seems they’re closer than ever to seeing a 30-year dream come true.
The non-binding referendum now must stand the test of Congress, which will have the final say on whether the measure moves forward.
So, is it likely to pass?
While some Republicans have taken a stand against Puerto Rico statehood, the National Convention in August delivered a Republican Party platform that supported statehood for Puerto Rico, should the residents of the territory vote to make that move.
“We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state if they freely so determine,” the platform states.
At the time that platform was put forth, however, it seemed near-impossible that Puerto Ricans would pass an amendment Nov. 6 to do just that. Now it’s a reality Congress will have to face. Politicians who perhaps blindly signed off on an off-the-wall ballot measure will now be tested to put their money — or their vote — where their mouth is, so to speak.
The makeup of the new House and Senate won’t change much, which means, based on past support, Congress shouldn’t have a problem ushering in a 51st state. The Nov. 6 election delivered a victory for the Democrats, but it didn’t change much for the House and Senate — the House remained in GOP control, and the Senate stayed with Democrats.
The question now is whether or not U.S. corporations operating in Puerto Rico, the same companies that benefit from large tax incentives to do so, will rally their lobbyists and push against statehood.
Where do we go from here?
During a June 2011 visit to Puerto Rico, President Barack Obama said he would stand by Puerto Rico if its citizens voted in favor of U.S. statehood. At that point, the likelihood of Puerto Ricans actually approving a ballot measure in November 2012 was slim.
While this may seem like a “leftist” thing to do, Obama was following in the footsteps of former Republican presidents who have held the same sentiment.
Miriam J. Ramirez can back this up, she knows the issue well. For more than 30 years, it has been this Puerto Rican’s passion.
Ramirez, a doctor and active Republican, has met with influential American leaders throughout the years, including George H. W. Bush, who held the belief that Puerto Ricans should be able to determine through a popular vote whether to join the U.S. as a state.
In an interview with MintPress in August, Ramirez spoke with informed outrage about the injustice Puerto Ricans face — and the need for change.
While regarded as U.S. citizens, they’re not awarded the right to vote. That means the 200,000 Puerto Ricans serving in the armed forces, who answer to the U.S. president as their commander in chief, do not have a say in the process.
But based on history, it seemed unlikely Puerto Ricans would ever choose to buck the trend and join the U.S. Referendums failed in 1967, 1993 and 1998.
Roadblock to Congressional approval
Puerto Rico is home to many U.S. corporations, especially those in the pharmaceutical industry.
The draw for such industries in Puerto Rico has little to do with the warm climate and a lot to do with the tax incentives. Tax breaks for U.S. companies operating in Puerto Rico were first implemented in the 1960s as a way to combat poverty on the island. Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code permits businesses operating out of Puerto Rico to only pay taxes on profits earned.
The idea was that, if companies set up shop there, it would open up the doors of opportunities for its residents — but that didn’t exactly happen.
Unemployment and poverty levels in Puerto Rico have consistently remained high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in August in Puerto Rico stood at around 14 percent.
The wages for jobs created are not as high as promised — and now it seems Puerto Ricans are fed up with nearly half of the population leaving the island to live and work in the U.S. So they did what no one really expected them to do and voted for statehood.
The question now is how corporations will respond. A precedent had already been set in Iowa, where the state’s Republican platform adopted an anti-Puerto Rican statehood ballot. When MintPress questioned the Iowa Republican Party on how — and why — the measure came to be, spokesperson Megan Stiles was not able to provide an answer.
The news that Iowa had adopted the anti-statehood measure didn’t surprise Ramirez. She’s no stranger to the arguments against statehood — both inside Puerto Rico and within the U.S. The language issue is huge, with those in the U.S. claiming that, in order to be accepted, Puerto Rico must stop speaking Spanish. That, of course, is ridiculous, but it has been perpetuated by Republican leaders.
Rick Santorum visited Puerto Rico during the Republican primary race and confirmed the fears, saying in an interview that English would have to be the official language in order for Puerto Rico to be a state.
This only stoked the fire of controversy in Puerto Rico, where rumors were circulating that voting for statehood could mean criminal penalties for speaking Spanish — all false.
Yet the issue of language will likely come up in Congressional debates over statehood. And if Ramirez is right, based on her 30 years of campaigning for the issue, the pharmaceutical companies benefiting from Puerto Rico’s foreign income status will make sure it’s a topic that’s troublesome enough for Congress to vote it down.